Volkswagen Polo 2016

My Drive this week was the Volkswagen Polo GTI. The reborn-again Polo GTI underwent a major update around this time last year – drivetrains were replaced, the three-door bodystyle was cut from the range, and purists were thrilled to find a manual transmission option was now available again. Yes, the Polo GTI was only available in automatic for a time – you’d think a sports car proposition would have a manual option wouldn’t you? But thankfully Volkswagen was listening and the faithful are happy again. Let’s take a look.

One of the more vocal criticisms of the last Polo GTI was that it didn’t look much different from your regular Polo, but VW has given the new model different looking alloy wheels, headlights and front and rear body parts to make it more obviously look like a sports model. Still, the design follows VW’s design trends for its cars with a refined, assertive looking appearance.

The interior is the same affair, with the typical dual binnacle instrument cluster divided by a vertical LCD information display. The centre console stack has gotten an update with a new 6.5-inch LCD screen dominating most of it. This entertainment system has the usual support for AM/FM radio, a CD player, USB music and Bluetooth phone, although it also adds the newer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone control systems. These two aren’t unique to the Polo, but they’re a sorely welcome addition and as a bonus, give you access to your smartphone’s navigation system, although you can also get Volkswagen’s own sat-nav as a cost-option.

The tartan cloth seats are much the same as before, and they’re quite a good mix of support and comfort. It’s a small car, so legroom is going to a little tight for taller people, but otherwise most people should be fine. Same goes for the boot, which comes with a very city-focused 204 litres of storage space.

The Polo GTI used to be equipped with that revolutionary 1.4 litre twin-charger engine, which combined a low-rev supercharger with a high-revving turbocharger to get the best of both worlds and enable forced induction throughout the rev range without killing fuel economy. Times have changed though and turbochargers have become advanced enough to kick in almost from idle these days, so VW dropped the supercharger and enlarged the engine. We’ve now got a 1.8 litre turbo four cylinder that puts out 141 kilowatts of power and up to 250, or 320 Newton-metres of torque. That maximum torque depends on your choice of transmission – stick with the seven speed dual clutch automatic and you’ll go up to 250, but choose the new six speed manual and you can add that extra 70 Newton-metres of torque to get very close to Golf GTI performance. The weird thing is, they both take only 6.7 seconds to get up to 100 km/h from a standing start.

The dual clutch auto has been refined further, taking off from second gear under relaxed acceleration and quickly working its way up while keeping revs very low for more driving refinement. The suspension is balanced quite well, not feeling too harsh under everyday driving but staying taut enough for some fun cornering. The steering has been moved over to an electric setup, something which makes every-day driving much easier but slightly deadens road feedback in sportier situations. Only slightly though. Combined fuel economy is officially rated at 5.7 L/100km for the auto, and a slightly higher 6.1 for the manual. My testing in the automatic scored a somewhat-higher 7.2 litres per hundred.

The Polo GTI comes in the one trim level, although there’s a couple of option packs available. Standard features include remote central locking, climate control air, cruise control, auto-on headlamps and wipers, front fog lights and a security alarm. The options packs include LED headlights, mixed leather/Alcantara seats, a sunroof, parking sensors and a rear view camera.

The Polo GTI retails for $27,490 with the manual gearbox, while the dual-clutch automatic version comes in at $29,990, both before on-road costs.

So some people will claim the Polo GTI has got its mojo back – they’d be right. Now that there’s a manual gearbox and more power, there’s an awesome combination of sporty fun and everyday practicality available for under 30 grand. Definitely worth a look. That’s it for me this week.

16 April 2016
Albert Malik